For many people, harvest services are a throw-back to the past when they marked a definite point in the year in the cycle of food production. We have become blasé about food. We can buy tomatoes and bananas all year from Tescos. After all, there is not much now about our food or indeed our lifestyle that is seasonal. So-called seasonal vegetables and plants are with us all year round. We no longer get up with the light and go to bed when it gets dark. We can work and play, go shopping and enjoy ourselves more or less any time we want, all year round. Some celebrations begin long before it seems appropriate: even now shops are already beginning to stock Christmas items. But while we may have lost sight of natural endings and natural beginnings harvest can still be a time for shared celebration and for us to remember that we do have a harvest both of growing things and our lives.
In the Old Testament
Old Testament law required that strangers, widows and orphans should be cared for, and including them in harvest celebrations. It was an important sign for them of how much they were cherished in the community. Harvest has never been an individual celebration. It has been fundamental to people for generations, to communities, to futures. In Deuteronomy the writer describes the whole community coming together to celebrate. Slaves took their place alongside landowners. Everyone was invited to the party because everyone had reason to give thanks for the harvest just as in more rural times in Britain. None of them would go hungry through the coming year.
So perhaps harvest is a good time to take stock and give thanks, and to recognise that we cannot celebrate in isolation from our neighbours around the world. Our lives could make all the difference to some of the world’s poorest countries and as we know from the prophet Amos, God judges us by the way we treat the poor.
Some, inspired by Greenbelt Angels try to embrace LOAF principles, Local, Organic, Animal Friendly, Fairly Traded. In Brierley Hill the churches had a stall in the Farmers Market selling LOAF products. In my allotment this year, I have planted many vegetables. Its not been been a particularly good year. Some like the potatoes, garlic and apples have been a success. Some like the carrots and parsnips, brassicas have been a failure. So it is with all harvests. We thank God for what is good and reflect during winter months of dwindling light and frosty mornings of our hopes for the spring and what we will sow in the New Year.
The story of the Sower draws on two Old Testament begins with Jesus telling us to listen
There are two background themes;
- The Shema (Dt 6.5) where 3 types of soil represent our struggle to love God
- The idea that Gods word goes into the world and always produces fruit. (Is 55v10)
Each hostile soil represents our resistance to the gospel.
Where the seed fails to take root, the discipleship is temporary.
The obstacles to the seed growing are;
- Satan, the accuser, who subverts
- Tribulation and persecution which causes us to fall away
- Worries and wealth,
The good soil yields phenomenal return.
In Palestinian farming they sowed and then ploughed the seed in.
The tenant farmer normally experience poor yields on poor soil and was in a constant state of servitude, dependent on the landowner. So the description of the success would be exceptional and mean he not only had money left over to pay off his debts but would be able to buy the land which was a challenge to the economic context.
How the Sower sows is the main point of story!!!!
When the poor Palestinian farmer went out to sow his seed, he did so in a kind of mindless fashion, chucking it into small corners of rocks and crevices, in poor soil, amongst weeds and finally some was thrown on good soil. Indeed it would seem he did so not heeding the consequences of his actions. He went out to sow seed, in the field, on the paths, on rocks among thorns whether birds were present or not. The implication seems to be that we should also be sowing the gospel, the good seed everywhere, not just where we would expect it to grow, certainly not just in church buildings or church meetings but in the pub, the club, at the school gate, in the office, at the football match. It’s not our problem to worry about the yield. Our job is just to sow. Like the mustard seed large plants can grow from small beginnings. And then we leave it to God, who has the last word. But we must leave it to grow.
What have we sown and harvested this year in our lives? The Spirit of God encourages us to go places we don’t want to go- the rocky soil. We are called to sow and harvest good news, love, peace, justice even though this is no easy task.
So what harvest are we gathering? What are we harvesting as a world, as a society, as a church, as individuals?